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Developing a Participatory Consultation Process for Quality Reviews: The initial stage of the European University Associations Quality Review of the Dublin Institute of Technology

Author - Aidan Kenny


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Methodology

The methodology utilized sought to address the following statements outlined in the EUA Guidelines document;

  • `The self-evaluation process is a collective institutional reflection and an opportunity for quality enhancement of any aspect that is part of the Self-evaluation process' (EUA 2004: 6).
  • The focus should be on `institutional critical reflection' and `actual practice' rather then citing existing policy documents. The process should be representative, collaborative, open, transparent and truthful (EUA 2004: 11).

The size, complexity of structure and dispersed location of the DIT community (student population 21,094, staff population 1,831 and variety of stakeholders, 6 faculties and support services, housed in 35 locations throughout Dublin’s city centre. See Figure 1 and Figure 2 for graphical profile of target populations) proved problematic in deciding on a research mode that could adequately fulfil the requirements as set out by the EUA.

In order to give a broad section of the DIT community an opportunity to participate in the consultation process and provide baseline empirical data, a quantitative methodology was employed, consisting of two structured online survey instruments. A qualitative methodology was used to explore and map out the DIT community attitudes and opinions, relating to specific themes and issues in greater detail. These two different methodologies were used in a ‘complimentary’ fashion, in that the findings could be compared and contrasted. It was not intended to utilize the separate research findings in a ‘corroborative’ or ‘facilitative’ fashion (Hammersley cited in Seale et al. 2004: 314). Underpinning this methodology was the rational to systematically signpost quality practices and map out potential weaknesses that need enhancement moving forward. In essence it is a retrospective reflective study of the DIT community. The premise is that the baseline data will facilitate the institution’s decision-making mechanisms to assess, plan and implement improvements.

Method

The primary focus of both the qualitative and quantitative modes was to explore issues relating to the strengths and weaknesses of the following six themes as stated in the EUA Guidelines document.

Mission Statement Strategic Plan Facilities & Resources
Learning and Teaching Quality Assurance Organizational Structures
Six themes or variable used to construct online survey and theme prompt sheets

A team-based approach was adopted by the Steering Committee (SC) to develop appropriate methods and procedures. Key tasks were communication, research design, quantitative research and qualitative research. Team designation was on a voluntary basis and members of the Academic Affairs support staff gave administrative support. This type of team development approach further reinforced the collaborative and collegial nature of the research enquiry. See Figure 3 which depicts the structure, tasks and team composition.

The author proposes that the team dynamic (structure and communication) utilized is comparable with both Robbins and Coulter (2002: 295) `All channel communication model' and some of Belbin’s (1996) characteristics of effect teams. Team construction was based on a multi-level model, emphasis was placed on open discourse, and decisions were then made in a rational collaborative fashion.


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